Monday, November 10, 2008

Ridden: Dura-Ace Di2

We’ve just returned from our first opportunity to ride Shimano’s leap into the great unknown. Unknown because no one really knows how the market will accept it. In a down market fewer $5000+ bikes are leaving shops and there remains some resistance to bikes that can cost upwards of $10,000 even among those who aren’t hurting.

Already there is blowback to a group that will price more expensively than many well-equipped bicycles. The tech geeks are salivating and the traditionalists are wondering what unasked question has been answered.

I’m going to split the difference on this one: We don’t need Di2 the way we need more efficient cars. The Segway was an invention that hasn’t made the world more interesting. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to still be stuck on Nuovo Record. Great as it is, I’m glad for integrated brake and shift levers—now there’s an answer to a question someone asked.

A few thousand people have already had a chance to ride Di2 on a trainer. I was excited to try it out on the road and feel what it was like under braking and attempting to downshift in corners and upshift the chainring during hard out-of-the-saddle efforts.

I’m going to cut to the chase: Di2 rocks. The shifting is simply the fastest I’ve ever experienced, faster, I dare say, than I would have imagined possible. While rear derailleur upshifts aren’t much faster than current Dura-Ace, the front derailleur upshifts are honestly smoother and faster than I thought possible, even when out-of-the-saddle and stomping the pedals in a Tom Boonen-goes-bye-bye effort. As a matter of fact, the faster your cadence, the faster the shift.

The automatic front derailleur trim function is another neat touch. Even if electronic shifting is an answer to an unasked question, a front derailleur that needs no trimming is something we have all fantasized about at some point.

I found the sound of the shifter, when far from the halls of the Sands Convention Center (and the crowds milling around the bike), to be strangely amusing. It’s not terribly unlike the sound of some brake pads on a carbon fiber rim, the difference being that the sound doesn’t last long (very short for the rear derailleur and just twice as long for front derailleur upshifts) or change in pitch.

The textured lever hoods feel like a rubber diamond file pattern. I’m not sure I’d want to ride on these for more than an hour or two with no gloves. That said, grip won’t ever be a problem on these.

Short of coming up with a lifetime battery, the engineers at Shimano have thought of most everything it would seem. I am precisely the guy who would forget to charge his bike and find himself riding home in the 50x17 at the end of 85 hilly miles, but I can’t escape the intrigue of this stuff. Heck, in the event of a crash or anything else that might throw off shifting performance, the electronic equivalent of the rear derailleur barrel adjuster is located near the handlebar so that adjustments can be made on the fly.

One thing I barely had time to experiment with was middle finger braking from the drops while downshifting with my index finger, or braking from the hoods and sliding my middle finger around to the downshift button. I’ve always appreciated how you could brake and downshift the rear at the same time with Dura-Ace, and I don’t particularly want to give that up.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this stuff is cool enough to warrant its place in the market. Whether it gains acceptance due to the serious coin it will take to purchase the stuff isn’t my say; units sold will be the judge.


acquiesce808 said...


Thos said...

I've heard it's good!

Here's a blog entry of mine about it that you might enjoy:

Ron George said...

After your seal of approval, I'm not sure if there can be many that can stay away from Di2. Thanks for the thoughts on the test ride.

Unknown said...

Electronic shifting? Yuck. IIRC, this has already been tried a couple of times-- Mavic Mektronics? or something like that and I think even Shimano had a version. Neither seemed to take hold. Doubtless, years of research and improved battery technology have made Di2 far superior to these older efforts. Still, to some of us, the appeal of a bicycle is its inherent mechanical simplicity. No Di2 for me, especially at the price it is sure to command.

Unknown said...

Certainly a technological wonder, but isn't there already enough outlet for creative minds by tinkering with frame materials, tubeless tires, etc. Mechanical simplicity, indeed, but that doesn't mean a bike can't also be complex.

jas said...

I hope I can get through the rest of my life without uttering the phrase "I can't go riding because my battery isn't charged/died/etc"... That said, I seem to remember Fabian Wegman (a Di2 tester) getting dropped from a '08 TDF break because something went wrong with his shifting. Di2 rings more of marketing than progress.

Albert Herring said...

a front derailleur that needs no trimming is something we have all fantasized about at some point.

We had those, back around 1980. Sun Tour made a band-on gear lever unit that (for supposedly aerodynamic reasons) had the works on top of the down tube rather than either side of it. The levers were mounted on a cam which was moved when the LH lever moved, so that changing the rear mech simultaneously nudged the front mech across a smidgeon. Worked a treat, and as a bonus you could change either mech with either hand.